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Chapter 9

I stepped out of the Metro into a much safer neighborhood. This was my part of town and walking down familiar streets was comforting. I guess the fact that I didn’t have to worry about some scary bald guy with an eye patch – I’d find that amusing if it weren’t so up front and personal – added to my relieved state of mind. Maybe my old man was right and I should quit that job. I had gotten it through Gable. One of his frat buddies was Mr. and Mrs. Han’s son and he needed someone to fill his shoes while away at school. I decided to give it more consideration later.

It was dark now and the crisp autumn air was beginning to give us a hint of what was coming. I know summer didn’t officially end until later in the month, but fall always began the first day of school for me regardless of what the sun and moon thought. I flipped my collar up and approached the warm glow emanating from the coffee shop just ahead.

I peered through the window and spotted Allison scrolling through a magazine. She looked innocent and engaged and I had a good feeling the magazine that so captivated her was American Heritage, a definite read on the bookworm list. I couldn’t imagine spending my free time reading more about history, but Allison did and that was part of her charm.

Allison lifted her head from the magazine and rolled her enormous hazel eyes my way – wow, what a sight! What in the world made me so lucky, I wondered as a sweet, shy smile stroked her lips. I winked and stepped in.

“How long were you standing there?” she asked, childishly.

I playfully grabbed her cup of coffee and raised it to my lips trying to evoke the desired reaction. Allison was about the most normal person I knew, but she had a thing about germs – drink germs, that is.

I swirled the brown juice around the cup, inching it closer to my mouth and smiled wickedly. Allison dared me with a raised eyebrow. However, just before the cup reached my lips, she grabbed my arm, at which point, I pulled her close and planted a kiss on her soft, alluring lips.

I winked with success.

“My lipstick looks good on you,” she said, trying to top me.

I leaned back, purposefully leaving the lipstick on my mouth, knowing Allison couldn’t stand letting people in the café see me like that. I casually looked around as her discomfort grew.

“You always fall for those,” I said.

One double take from an old lady and Allison quickly wiped the color from my lips. “Which ones?” she responded.

“The unexpected ones.”

“How do you know I’m not setting you up?” She emphasized the ‘you’.

“It’s not in your nature.”

“Well, maybe not, but I’m not the only one who’s predictable.”

My curiosity peaked. “What do you mean?”

“You, Mr. Locke, can always be counted on to be late!” Allison smiled, vindicated.

“Would it help any if I said I almost got killed on the way?”

“You look fine to me,” she said, but quit the game and added, “Your father’s right, though. Crossing through that part of town is not a good idea.”

“It builds character,” I said casually, trying to play it cool, but deep down I knew they were right.

“You’re a character, I’ll say that,” Allison said, sounding very much like a mother and I suddenly missed mine.

“So what are you reading?”

“I bet you can guess.”

“I’m not the Russian detective, remember?”

“Detectives deduce, smart guy, so stick to your trade and guess.”

I laughed. She thought she got me with a real zinger and was impressed with herself.

“Let’s see,” I started, “if I had to deduce, I’d say you’re reading an article on the guy you’d really like to be having coffee with.”

“Do you think he drank coffee or was he one of those tea guys?”

“How am I supposed to know, he’s been dead for like a million years.”

“It hasn’t been that long,” she replied, disappointed that I didn’t know what Crimson James’s drink of choice had been.

“Okay, 500 years, right?”

“332 to be exact.”

“I’ll say. You really are his biggest fan, aren’t you? Maybe it’s a good thing he’s not around anymore or they might toss you in jail for stalking.”

“A girl can dream, can’t she?”

“What’s the article about?”

“The Crimson James Memorial.”

“Is that the round one or is that Jefferson’s?”

“They’re both round and they modeled the James one after Jefferson’s.”

“Not much for originality.”

“I agree, they should have given him his own unique design. That would be fitting.”

“Maybe when you’re in charge of things, you can rebuild it the right way.”

“I already have a design in mind,” she said and I didn’t doubt her one bit. “Any chance you had a change of heart and opened your letter?”

“It was tempting, but not a chance.”

“That must take a lot of will power. I know I certainly couldn’t resist.”

“Does it really matter?”

“It does for those of us trying to get a scholarship,” she exclaimed and I remembered Allison had scored in the ninety-fifth percentile.

“I don’t think they give scholarships for private investigating,” I jousted.

“No, they probably don’t, but we’ll see what Friday’s list brings to the table.”

“I’m sure you were something special and it will all work out. Besides, you’re bound to get a scholarship anyway.” Allison had good enough grades and had taken enough advanced placement classes to give her a leg up on most other applicants. In addition to that, she would knock it out of the park at the interviews.

“So I take it Matt didn’t show up at all today because he wasn’t at lunch?” she inquired, changing subjects.

“No. I tried to get him out of his bunker, but he wouldn’t budge.”

“Oh well, I guess I’ll see him tomorrow then.”

“Lucky for him, I suppose,” I said, “he gets to eat with you now.”

She gazed out the window. The moon was nestled between an old brick building and an equally old tree. I had a feeling where she was going to take the conversation and wanted to avoid it, but I would eventually have to face the music on this one.

“I know you probably won’t be opening your letter on Friday,” Allison said, “but you know it’s a big day for me on top of finding out who I was.”

“You only turn eighteen once,” I replied. “Soon you’ll be in college and then off to working for the government and before you know it, you’ll be retiring in Florida like the rest of the old folks.”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. But yes, you only turn eighteen once and it wouldn’t be quite the same if my boyfriend didn’t show up to my birthday party.”

I sighed much to her dismay. “Allison-”

“Are you going to be there?” she asked, cutting me off. “I made my dad promise not to probe into your past.”

“What does he got against me anyway? How can I answer what I don’t know?”

“You won’t have to,” she exclaimed. “I want you to be there when I rip open that envelope. It would mean so much to me.” How could I say no to her puppy dog eyes? “Besides, I have a special announcement to make.”

“What’s that?”

“You’ll just have to be there to find out?”

“It’s tempting, but...”

“Oh, come on!”

“Of course I’ll be there. Just promise your dad won’t interrogate me.”

“I promise,” she exclaimed and planted a quick kiss on my lips. “Those are the best.”

“What?”

“The unexpected ones,” she gleamed.

I shook my head and was glad I’d made her happy. Unfortunately, I wasn’t so sure that her father would keep his promise – he was a spy after all.

“I’ll go on one condition, though.”

“Hey, you already promised.”

“Then you have to promise that you’ll go to the bonfire party at the lake on Saturday night.”

“You know that’s not my thing.”

“And hanging out with your father isn’t mine,” I countered and by the look on her face, I could have easily claimed checkmate.

“Fine, but I’m not drinking no matter what anyone says.”

“Who said anything about drinking? I just want to hang out with you under the stars.”

“That was a bad attempt at poetry, but it does sound nice.”

“It will be, you’ll see,” I said for added assurance. “Well, I hate to end this party early, but my dad’s eggrolls are probably frozen by now.”

“You’d better get going then. You shouldn’t keep a man from his food.”

“Are you coming?” I asked and stood up. “I can walk you home.”

“That’s okay. My dad is working late and said he’d swing by and pick me up.”

“Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow at school then.”

“I can’t wait,” she said and squeezed my hand.

With the prospect of her father barging in at any moment, I skedaddled. As I passed the window, Allison pressed her palm against it. I stopped and mirrored her gesture. After a moment, I removed my hand and my palm print remained.

Walking away, I noticed Allison slowly tracing the lines of my palm and knew what she was wondering: had we known each other in a past life.

Who knows, I thought, and headed home, cold eggrolls in hand.

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